My 6th season of grape picking is more or less over. Obviously the experience has become familiar with much of the mystique long gone - now more than replaced with catching up with friends. The magic remains as fresh as ever along with the collective energy and sense of common purpose of the team.
For anyone who fancies picking here are some observations.
Picking is hard on back. Well, certainly there is much bending over for hours and several muscles are in for a shock. Squatting is also necessary at times to give visibility and uses different muscles so gives gives the back some relief. Experienced pickers are generally able to avoid this and save energy. Plucking away a few obscuring leaves is the key to this.
In a well organised team porters will shift buckets and cagettes so pickers can avoid lifting. For many day 3 is the hardest before the body settles in and things ease (a little). Nevertheless, the reality is that individual backs react differently. Personally I find the whole experience helps strengthen those all important back supporting muscles.
Picking is hard work. As a sustained effort beyond a couple of hours a certain degree of stamina is required. The ability to concentrate when tired is critical. As ever, experience results in a less energetic technique.
The partying is hard. Draw your own conclusions.
Not all varieties are equal. Dealing with a waist high goblet of old Grenache with light foliage is on a par with shelling peas. Generously cropping Syrah on trellis wires that extend to above head hight is exhausting and frustrating with bunches hidden away at all levels.
Triage. Grapes grown to organic standards may produce superb fruit, but bio-diverse environments create a gamete of organisms to attack what is a monoculture crop. Selecting only perfect bunches is the main reason for hand picking and is the one area that demands experience, but the simple rule is don't pick anything you wouldn't eat.
There are dangers. Secateurs cut fingers and each season there are a couple of minor incidents and I have been a statistic - everyone does it once. Amazingly I've only witnessed one retirement. Concentration and always looking are critical.
Brambles and thistles also pose hazards. Fingers, and especially finger nails, become stained (a slice of lemon rubbed in helps clean them up). Those of a vain disposition wear gloves, but touch and feel are a crucial part of efficiently rejecting unhealthy bunches.
Allergies. Living vineyards are full of organic materials and picking some varieties entails literally burying one's head in a dry dusty vine occasionally. As the scorching summer sun retreats a second season of plant growth ensues - more pronounced with occasional rain to fuel it. Hay Fever suffers (like me) need to be aware and take precautions.
Clothing takes a battering. Yes. But at least, for some reason, grape stains wash out more easily than wine stains.
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